John Swinney has suggested more “concrete actions” need to be taken by the Scottish Government and fewer strategy papers published to boost the country's economy.

Mr Swinney said his administration would take a “moderate, left of centre position, firmly rooted in the mainstream of European social democracy”.

The new First Minister who succeeded Humza Yousaf just ten days ago has promised to focus on growing Scotland's economy as a means of delivering more funds for public services and to combat child poverty.

He took over the SNP leadership following Mr Yousaf's resignation after he terminated the power sharing arrangment in Holyrood with the Scottish Greens.

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His succession came after potential leadership rival Kate Forbes decided not to enter the race. Ms Forbes was appointed Deputy First Minister.

She introduced Mr Swinney ahead of his first major speech on the economy, which he delivered at the Barclay’s Glasgow Campus today. 

The Herald: Deputy First Minister and economy secretary Kate Forbes introduing the First Minister to the audience at the Barclays Campus in Glasgow today.  Photo: PA.

Speaking to an audience of business and trade union leaders, as well as academics and journalists, the First Minister said boosting economic growth and eradicating child poverty go “hand in hand”.

He set out his government’s broad priorities on the economy, saying the details of specific policies would come later.

The SNP leader said that in order to tackle child poverty, a “strong, successful, innovative and dynamic economy” is needed.

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He continued: “There is no conflict in my mind or in the priorities of my government between eradicating child poverty and boosting economic growth. For me, and for my government, eradicating child poverty and boosting economic growth go hand in hand.”

The First Minister said he wanted his government to have a “can do attitude” which would remove obstacles in the economy.

“Rather more bluntly, I will demand from my government more concrete actions and fewer strategy documents," he said.

The Herald: First Minister John Swinney speaking at the Barclays Campus in Glasgow today.  Photo: PA.

“A strategic approach is clearly essential, but I want the first question we ask ourselves to be – what can we do, rather than what can we write down.”

Mr Swinney said that when he stood down as Deputy First Minister, he did not realise he was in a “sort of sabbatical year” and would return to the head of the Scottish Government.

He said: “During that time I began to see the world, and crucially our politics from a very different perspective.

“To be honest, I didn’t like what I saw.

“I saw our politics as polarised, combative, disinterested in finding common ground, more interested in dragging down than building up.”

The Herald: First Minister John Swinney and his deputy Kate Forbes pictured arriving at the Barclays Campus in Glasgow today. Photo PA.

During his speech, the First Minister hit out at Rishi Sunak over the “astonishing” decision to tighten migration policies for those seeking to come to the UK with Mr Swinney saying that growing the country’s population was “central” to what he described as an “ambitious agenda for growth and opportunity in Scotland”.

He criticised the Prime Minister for posting on social media that people such as care workers and overseas students looking to bring dependent family members with them had been “stopped”.

Instead, Mr Swinney insisted such people should be “welcome”.

His comments came after the UK Migration Advisory Committee warned earlier this week that recent policy changes – such as the ban on many overseas students bringing dependants and the increase in the salary thresholds for the skilled worker route – would have an impact the number of overseas graduates working in the UK.

Mr Swinney said: “The UK Government is now celebrating making it harder for overseas masters students to study in the United Kingdom and for overseas care staff to work in the UK.

“I find that astonishing as a First Minister wrestling with a social care crisis in our communities and the necessity to encourage and fuel the dynamism of our universities.”

With Mr Swinney adding that future population growth in Scotland is more likely to come from migration, the First Minister insisted: “It is in Scotland’s interests to have a more generous system, not a tighter one.”

He said students should be allowed to stay and work for five years after completing their studies, to encourage the “best and brightest” to remain.

He also said there should be a “return to the approach of European freedom of movement” – although he accepted there was “little prospect” of this happening “while Scotland’s migration policies are decided at Westminster”.

Mr Swinney also reminisced on the Fresh Talent scheme brought in by former first minister Jack – now Lord – McConnell, which sought to allow university students who studied in Scotland to continue to live in the country.

“We’ve got a problem, we’ve got a real problem about population and that’s because of Brexit, its calamitous implications for us and this uber-hostile towards migration,” he said.

He added that if Scotland was to be “realistic” about the challenges facing the country, immigration should be seen as a starting point.

Scottish Conservative shadow secretary for business, economic growth and tourism Murdo Fraser MSP said: “John Swinney must think Scots are buttoned up the back.

“For nearly all of the last 17 years he has been at the heart of a failing SNP Government who have presided over sluggish economic growth and created a £1.5 billion black hole in Scotland’s finances.

“John Swinney and his deputy Kate Forbes hiked taxes on hard-pressed Scots and imposed ever-increasing burdens on companies, and failed to pass on much needed rates relief to crucial sectors.

“Scotland’s struggling businesses will be waiting with bated breath to see if these warm words are followed up with positive action, as they heard all the same rhetoric about a reset when Humza Yousaf took office last year.

“Growing our economy will continue to take a backseat as long as John Swinney continues on from his predecessors and pushes his independence obsession at every turn.

“Simply reviewing the SNP’s anti-business policies won’t cut it. He should stop widening the tax gap with the rest of the UK, scrap flawed short-term lets legislation and pass on much-needed rates relief, otherwise his speech will just go down as hot air.”